Thursday, 1 January 2015

800 Years Of Magna Carta

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John on 15 June 1215 at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames between Windsor and Staines.
All manner of celebrations are being staged to mark the event and Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals are expected to be swamped with visitors eager to see one of the two original copies in existence although the British Library does have two copies.
While most people can have a vague stab at what the Magna Carta is and who the King was who signed it, the relevance of it is very much overstated because for the vast majority of the country it wasn't much use at all.   
The story goes that King John of England was forced to sign The Magna Carta so he and whoever followed him onto the throne could no longer ride roughshod over their subjects.
In reality, The Magna Carta provided plenty of personal rights and freedoms if you were wealthy because it was the landowners and Barons who wrote the Magna Carta and forced King John to sign it because they were outraged that he kept putting up their tax and rents.
Not so much motivated by a sense of great injustice at King John’s acts of cruelty and murder against his subjects, more because he was trying to squeeze more money out of them.
The Magna Carta wasn't even an original piece, it was a dusted off copy of the Charter of Liberties that Henry I signed in 1100 promising to respect certain rights of the Church and the Barons.
Far from being the basis of all English law, of the original 61 clauses, only 3 remain which are the freedom of the Church of England, the continued ancient liberties of the City of London and that no freeman shall be denied Justice or Right.
There's nothing in the charter corresponding to the rights of the citizens and Oliver Cromwell dismissed it, noting that it merely: 'tied one sort of people to be slaves to another; Clergy and Gentry have got their freedom, but the common people still are, and have been left servants to work for them.'
We can expect to hear it mentioned time after time this year that the signing of the Magna Carta was when the common man gained his rights but actually, the only beneficiaries were the English nobility and the Church of England, the rest of the country continued to toil in the fields under the control of the Barons who treated the common folk with much more disdain and cruelty than King John ever treated the nobility.
Remember that when the plethora of programmes and documentaries that will appear on the television this year holding up the Magna Carta as some incredibly important event in the rights of the common man because the only beneficiaries of it were the richest people who were able to continue oppressing the common man while being freed of paying their share of taxes and from where i am sitting, 800 years on, that hasn't really changed.

1 comment:

Keep Life Simple said...

Lucy what has changed is that 800 years ago only a hanful of people were not destitute. Now hundreds of millions have more than they need and billions have all they need.